ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – From the search to the discovery to the arrest, the investigation into the death of 13-year-old Tristyn Bailey is taking a toll on the community, including the investigators.
“In my 20 years of investigating homicides, this is probably one of the most tragic and difficult cases that we have faced,” St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office Director Howard Cole told News 6 partner WJXT on Tuesday.
Cole is a veteran homicide detective who’s overseeing the case. It’s a team effort of 80 investigators, plus forensics, patrol and criminal analysis.
Cole said Aiden Fucci -- a 14-year-old schoolmate of Bailey’s at Patriot Oaks Academy who is charged with second-degree murder in connection with her death -- is the only suspect in the case. Cole said he does not believe other people were involved in the killing.
“I would say the other names that have been tossed around are classified as witnesses at this point,” Cole said, declining to go into whether those witnesses have been cooperative.
“We’ve got to keep as many of the facts of this case out of the public realm to ensure the integrity of the investigation and ensure a proper prosecution for justice and accountability in this case,” Cole said.
Cole said they have a substantial amount of evidence -- a lot found at Fucci’s home. News4Jax also spotted the dive team collecting evidence in a pond near the spot where a neighbor found Bailey’s body. Detectives aren’t saying what they found and if they’ve recovered a murder weapon.
News4Jax questioned Cole about a widely-shared photograph showing a teenager, who the Sheriff’s Office confirmed was Fucci, in the back seat of a deputy’s cruiser. In the Snapchat photo, the unhandcuffed teen has his hands in the peace sign with the caption: “Hey guys has inybody (sic) seen Tristyn lately.”
“I look at that Snapchat photo just as everybody else does. It is what it is. It’s in the file, part of the case,” Cole said.
The Sheriff’s Office has gotten numerous tips regarding other teens posting about Bailey’s death. Investigators said several people on social media are using the case to gain fame and followers.
“I’m aware of several social media posts, and our investigators are reviewing those, investigating those when it’s appropriate. But I would say that’s just kids being kids at this point. It’s nothing to do with our investigation. We’re sticking to the facts and the evidence and not the noise and the chatter that occurs on social media,” Cole said. “These kids have no idea the magnitude of their words and the things they post, and it’s frankly reprehensible.”
On Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Office issued a statement that reads in part:
“There are a number of accounts however that are using this case to try to gain fame and followers. Please know that these individuals had nothing to do with this incident. At this time, the below accounts have already been investigated and no longer need to be forwarded to the Sheriff’s Office.”
It then listed the following accounts:
Cole said his team has a long way to go, but they’re focused on the case and justice for Bailey’s family.
“I would say based on my experience, which is quite extensive, I am very confident that this case will be prosecuted to the fullest extent,” he said. “There is very strong evidence in this case. I’m not gonna get into specifics, but I’m very confident.”
The 7th Circuit State Attorney’s Office has not yet decided if he will be charged as an adult. While the State Attorney’s Office makes that determination, Fucci was ordered to be held in Department of Juvenile Justice custody for the next 21 days.